At-Home Dad Burnout
By Peter Baylies
My first few months with my newborn child were a breeze since John
slept several hours during the day. During waking hours I had the
peaceful stroller walks and easy trips to the grocery store where
I was the center of everyone's adoration and affection---"Oh
look at that father with his adorable baby," women would squeal.
Despite many tough nights, I thought that if this was my new life,
then it was going to be a cinch!
as the months went on I found myself grabbing freeze pops to get
five minutes of quiet, then sticking John in his jolly-jumper to
get 10 minutes more. As John started walking, I could still buy
some time with a Tootsie Roll Lollipop but with his mobility, the
top of every table was in danger. Everywhere I looked there was
another Lego, matchbox car, a half-eaten cracker or a used baby
wipe on the floor. Between the whining of the vacuum cleaner and
from my son, I was starting to lose it.
my second son David was born, there were more diapers to change,
more dishes to clean and even more crying (which I didn't think
was possible). With two babies, I would find myself running around
to pick up after them, making sure they were safe, feeding and cleaning
them as well as making dinner for my wife and trying to get my other
day-to-day errands run. I distinctly remember the moment of no return-it
was raining outside, the house was a mess, both babies were wailing
and I did not know what to do. We had watched all the videos in
the house at least 70 times, and I couldn't bring myself to put
on yet another RugRats episode. I sat down on my couch and thought,
"God, I need to get out of here." Trouble is I had no
time to reflect on it because I had to clean the pee behind the
toilet before my wife got home.
for the Signs
"Some dads suffer in silence," said Dr. Bruce Drobeck,
a marriage and family therapist from Dallas. "We may have more
in common with at-home moms than the traditional working dad. The
non-traditional lifestyle is a test of our marriage, and you really
have to work together to make it work. At-home dads need individual
time with the wife and time with the kids to balance out our new
lifestyle." When the children are young you get the most stress
at home since they are totally dependent on you. As long as the
youngest child doesn't know enough to stay off the road, your brain
is always working at some level; it's never really at peace. The
only way you can get more is to allow yourself to take a "time-out."
Of course with kids in tow and a diaper that needs to be changed
at any time, you just can't. No matter how much you love them, you
eventually need the time for yourself and begin to feel trapped
which can be a warning sign of burnout.
is inevitable and it is important that you set up certain "escapes"
for yourself to help deal with it. Again, it's important to be aware
of how you are feeling and know when it's time to get out -whether
it is for an hour-or for a weekend. Sit down with your wife and
create a plan that will allow you to get out of the house on a periodic
basis ---at least with a schedule, you can have something to look
forward to when the days seem too overwhelming. Setting up a plan
to deal with burnout may be as important for your marriage as it
is for your own well-being. Alan Carroll of Brookline, N.Y. noted
that his wife also suffers from burnout. "My wife works a lot
and I think she is pulled between her work and her baby so when
she is at home she feels so guilty that she has to spend more time
with the baby. As a result she neglects herself for the baby, she
needs to take more time for herself." Alan ended up buying
a one-hour massage for her so that she could have that alone time.
finds that the lack of time his wife takes for herself causes stress
and arguments. "When I say I want to go out and do something
on my own she will say, 'well don't we have to buy a car seat,'
or something that might prevent me from taking time for myself.
Then she will say, 'but that's OK, go ahead.' She plants that seed
of guilt in my head that I am neglecting the baby. It's not like
I am going to go to a strip club and pretend I am single and prefer
that better. It's just that I know I need that time for myself.
It gives me balance in my life and I know that makes me and the
baby happy. The other day I was at a coffee shop with my daughter
and I overheard two mothers talking, they were saying that they
need their personal time at the local gym so they could have the
energy to give to the children. I wish my wife had heard that conversation."
talking to at-home dads the last 10 years I have asked dads what
they have changed for themselves that made for a more stress free
family. Below are 10 simple things that you can control to make
the household a more pleasant and stress-free environment:
Talk to them and listen to them. When your kids know you are listening
to them, it makes them realize their input matters and gives them
a feeling of control and self-worth.
Treat them with respect. When you respect them, they will respect
Give them lots of hugs and kisses. A feeling of being loved gives
your kids a feeling of self confidence in themselves.
Show you love your spouse in front of your kids. Seeing mom and
dad show affection toward each other gives them two role models
to aspire by.
Allow kids to be self-reliant - Let them try things for themselves
no matter how foolish it may seem to you (provided it's safe). For
example my kids like to do experiments by mixing water with several
objects and putting it in the freezer to see what happens. They
couldn't wait to see what it would look like the following day.
After a while, when we trusted them with the toaster, we encouraged
them to make toast. (My oldest son is 12 and he is making a pretty
good ham & cheese omelet now.)
Communicate with your spouse and agree on parenting styles - To
avoid a public argument and mixed messages, make sure you and your
wife agree on your child's behavior.
Get to know your kids' friends - As your children get older and
a few neighborhood kids start to visit, listen to them and learn
what they are like and how mature they are This will give you better
judgment when they start asking to do more outside the house.
Don't expect too much but don't be a pushover - Pick your battles,
some disagreements may not be worth the argument. If your child
wants to walk to school without a raincoat, let him do it, and see
if the consequences will help him make a better decision next time.
But if you have a serious issue, stand by it.
Avoid yelling at them at all costs - Always discipline with reason
not fear. When you don't like a decision or action your child is
making, calmly ask them why they are making the decision. Have them
explain what might happen; sometimes they will see why you might
Create as much adventure as possible for your kids - Creating adventure,
although it may not be a popular pastime for the moms, is one way
that many at-home dads deal with burnout. This does not mean taking
the kids skydiving or white water rafting. It is amazing what adventures
you can find within a few blocks of your house. In fact, many dads
find that every time they take their children out of the house it
can be an adventure. Getting out of the house to do things together
are important not only for your sanity, but are important bonding
experiences and so many at-home dads have incorporated what they
call 'field trips' into their weekly or monthly routines.
Baylies is the author of the Stay-at-Home Dad Handbook. He also
writes the At-Home Dad Newsletter at www.athomedad.com
and has been an at-home dad for his two sons for over 10 years.
You may purchase his book at Amazon.com.
You may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
His work has been featured or mentioned in the Boston Globe, the
Christian Science Monitor, Men's Health, O, The Oprah Magazine,
Parents, USA Today, and Woman's Day.
excerpt is reprinted with permission from Stay-at-Home Dad Handbook
(Chicago Review Press).